To say that the COVID-19 Crisis has changed everything is an understatement. We are experiencing a new reality in the way we work, interact and live. No one really knows when we will return to normal, or what normal will look like. But even though times are uncertain, it's important not to be paralyzed with fear. Here are eight action items to take now.

1. Practice Accurate Time Tracking

For service-based industries like advertising, time tracking is critical. Without it, it’s impossible to see the full picture of your business. According to the Harvard Business Review, the US economy is losing 50 million hours (an estimated $7.4 billion) a day because time was not tracked.

During a crisis or uncertain times, it is necessary to evaluate employee productivity. For that, you need accurate data. Without information about employee hours, you would be unable to run a complete Client Profitability Report. And with no employee time data, running an Employee Utilization Report is impossible.

There are employees who enter their time throughout the day or at the end of the day. This is the best way to ensure accurate time entry, but unfortunately, this is rarely practiced. Most do their time-sheets at the end of the week (or even further back) by “re-creating” time from memory. No one’s memory is good enough to accurately recall what they did a week ago or more.

Agencies who “re-create” time are doing themselves a disservice. The only way to track time accurately is to record it immediately, or at least on the same day.

The solution is to make it quick and easy to log time. If Time Entry is integrated with Tasks and Assignments, everything is done in the same place. The action of entering time and marking an assignment complete are done seamlessly.

2. Streamline your Processes

Automating repetitive tasks and harnessing the power of an integrated platform can save thousands of dollars a year in FTE costs alone.  With the right automation tools, an individual can more quickly and accurately accomplish the same work it used to take an entire team to do.

Automation has the added benefit of eliminating jobs that generate little strategic benefit to the agency. In fact, the jobs that automation eliminates are largely the jobs that clients point to when they talk about how expensive the agency's "overhead" is and why they don't want to pay for it. Automating those roles lowers the agency's operating cost and frees up workable space for billable roles.

Does your process involve manually entering billing data from spreadsheets or other systems into billing? This practice exposes your agency to enormous risk of billing errors or forgetting to invoice at all. Can you afford to leave money on the table during a crisis? When Project Management and Media Buying are connected to Accounting, the risk of human error is greatly reduced.

3. Improve Communications

Your project managers must keep everyone informed on what they have to do and when things are due.  They also need a full history of everything that has taken place on projects.  This can be challenging when employees are in different offices or are working from home.

If all project management tools are in a complete platform, everyone logs into one system for everything from communications to timekeeping. When considering a project management platform, it should be flexible and customizable. It should not only fit your current workflow, but be scalable enough to grow with your agency. Look for the following features:

  • Project Schedule
  • Agile Kanban Boards
  • Stand-alone Assignments
  • Integrated Calendar
  • Estimates
  • Purchase Orders
  • Automatic Notifications
  • Document Management

Most importantly, Project Management should be connected to Accounting to truly streamline processes between departments.

4. Compare Estimates to Actuals

If your staff is creating all estimates simply by copying previous ones, stop.  If the original estimate was inaccurate, then you’ve just repeated a mistake. A practice of copying estimates can mean perpetually repeating the problem of under estimating actual costs. 

When estimating a project, look at the actual hours and costs for similar jobs, by type and delivery window. It can be a lot of work, but the pay-off is accurate estimates. It requires you to track your job history, organized by type. This can be accomplished by holding a post-mortem after each project and storing the information in a spreadsheet or file.  Some systems have a feature that will do this for you, allowing you to easily filter quote vs actual data by client, job type and other criteria.

5. Review Client Profitability

After determining your agency’s overall profitability, determine client distribution. Take the percentage of your adjusted gross income each client represents.  In a pie chart, does one client comprise half or a third of the pie? If so, does that make you uncomfortable? To determine client profitability, analyze deeper and measure the profits from each client to gain more valuable insights.  Because you are investing time and resources into each client, you want to track the rate of that investment. If some have a much lower profit margin when you consider the amount of time employees must spend to maintain them, it may suggest a need to raise rates for the client. It also may be a symptom of needing to improve your agency process.

6. Make New Business a Priority

When times are tough, it becomes necessary to take sales efforts up a notch. This means getting more aggressive and documenting all sales activity. If you have a great CRM platform but are not using it to its full potential, start getting your money’s worth. Do you just need a basic CRM feature that allows your team to document calls and store client and prospect information? Some agency management systems have such a feature (sometimes at no extra cost).

7. Go Paperless

Going paperless not only saves time and money, but it’s good for the environment. And if everyone is working from home, it’s essential.

There is no reason to bury your agency under paper when communicating assignments. There are many software systems available that will reduce (if not eliminate) the role of paper in your project management because tasks and assignments display on employee dashboards.

If draft invoices are still being printed, consider an accounting system with billing approval capabilities. A Billing Approval feature bridges communication between Account Managers and Accounting, automating the process, saving time as well as paper.

Manage Accounts Payable without paper by encouraging vendors to provide electronic invoices that can be imported into your system. A complete system will also include a payment manager that eliminates the need for printing checks and waiting for physical signatures.

8. Lower Operating Costs

Consider investing in an all-in-one agency management platform. Paying for multiple systems is not only costly; it complicates your process.  Add up the cost of separate tools for Accounting, Project Management, Media Planning and Buying, Time Keeping, Expenses, etc., and compare to an all-in-one system. If that isn’t enough to convince you, consider how a single integrated system can increase efficiency, therefore lowering operating costs.

The Advantage Agency Management System is the only true all-in-one solution purpose-built for agencies and creative teams of all sizes. The system covers everything from Project and Production Management, Finance and Accounting, Time and Expense Management, and Media Planning and Buying.

Weve been exclusively focused on helping our clients maximize productivity, efficiency and profitability for over 40 years, with almost a thousand agencies counting on us to help run their business every day.

With Advantage you get a team of US-based agency veterans supporting you every step of the way.  All implementation and training is done by experienced Advantage staff, and all clients have unlimited access to our live customer support line from 8am-7:30pm Eastern every business day.

Find out how Advantage can help you by contacting us for a complimentary demo or discussion about your unique needs.